Tuesday 20 February 2024

I was an IDF soldier stationed in Gaza in at the end of 1992


From @alon_mizrahi

Let me share with one of the most surreal and sobering moments of my life, that happened to me while I was an IDF soldier stationed in Gaza in at the end of 1992.

That kind of moment could only happen to a Mizrahi, or Arab-jewish soldier. You'll see why I say it. And I could swear to you that every word of it is true. No embellishments, no filling in missing pieces of memory. All truth.
In the summer of 1992 I finished basic and some advanced infantry training, and my platoon was ready to partake in combat function, which really was just (same as for generation of young Israeli men and women before and after that) enforcement of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The unit I was joining at this stage had under its responsibility (for purposes of overt occupation activities) the Al-Shati refugee camp and some of the adjacent Rimal neighborhood, on the northwestern part of the Strip.

At the end of 1992, Israel's leadership decided that the (Zionist and brilliant) solution for the growing discontent, or resistence, in the Strip, was removing 400 Hamas 'leaders' from Gaza and sending them into exile in Lebanon.

As many of those Hamas figures lived in and around the area designated for my unit to handle, we were appointed with making dozens of arrests, or maybe hundreds (Israel would always arrest additional people for more information, as a form of pressure and to prevent an eruption of a violent reaction).

For weeks in November of 1992 I would spend whole nights of my very young life walking from house to house in the dead of night in Gaza, knocking on doors, threatening family members of missing wanted people and handing over those who were home to the representatives of the security services, who were always with us, and always in plain cloths.

As part of my service there, I was in hundreds of Palestinians homes in Gaza, many of them during that month of endless nocturnal search and arrest hours.
Some nights we would take in 10 different people from same numbers of homes.
I was too young and shocked to understand anything, though it was clear to me that this was not the hero's service fighting evil I spent the months and years before joining the IDF hoping for and fantasizing about.

Those people in Gaza were normal in a way that no part of me could align with evil. And I could never bring myself to become that natural lord and master that colonial and racist regimes always expect their soldiers and cops to be. I was too soft.
The people we took in never cried, begged for forgiveness or claimed it was a mistake. They would climb up and sit in the military vehicle with their hands tied behind their backs and their eyes covered in a kind of quiet that was more thunderous, more painful for me to remember all those years later, than any other act would be.
One man in particular I remember. A big, sombre man in his 30', who looked untouchable in a big, thick black coat. But as he sat in the military vehicle with his hands tied behind his back his coat slipped over his shoulders, revealing a tank top and a body and skin that did not look invincible, or untouchable. He was human.

And he sat there, staring into space, in total quiet. Back then I had no idea where these men were taken, and what was going to be unleashed upon them. Only many years later did I discover how extensive Israel's use of torture was, and how horrible.

But the big, somber, fragile man sat there, quiet, and, like any other Palestinian I saw in this situation, with  what I can best describe as dignity in brokenness, that was astonishing. I have never seen anyone with more dignity in my life than a hand-tied, eyes-covered Palestinian detainee.
Towards the end of those weeks of knocking on doors and arresting people, one morning, around 7AMm after a long long bight, that moment happened to me. It was something that I never forgot and never will forget.

It was the last arrest for that night, which already becade day. We stood there, a small band of soldiers, and knocked on the door of what looked like a well built, well kept house. It was not fancy, but it surely not the house of poor people.

We waited for someone to come and open the door. After a minute or so, someone did.

If you ever felt like reality around you had its fundamentals twisting and changing, or like the layer of meaning that enveloped reality was torn, revealing another layer of deeper meaning, but in a way that makes you dizzy and dumbfounded - if you know that feeling you'll know what I went through that moment.

Because the person that opened that door at that house that morning in Gaza was my very own and only sister.

The door opened and the actual, precise, living and breathing image of my sister, identical as any identical twin ever was, stood in the doorway. It was her face. her expression, her hair, her highet, her age, her build, her movement, her skin tone accurate to the 1000th degree.

I didn't know what was going on, or what kind of insane trick was being played on me. I gasped, lost for words. I stood a meter away from her, and my very wanted to call her by my sister's name.   
Not long after this, after that whole period, I started cracking. I could not take it anymore, though I never could tell myself what it was that I couldn't take. I went to see a psychologist and got restationed to a non-combat unit.

It took me many years to start to appreciate the damage done to me by what I was sent to do and see in Gaza. I don't think that even today I have completely processed it.
She stood at the door and was a little puzzled, bot not panicked. She was wiping the floor, and it was still wet. A bucket with a rug in it stood by. It was a clean house, with a shining clean floor. The officer told her to get out and speak to us from street level, as the house was one stair up from that.

But the street was dirty and sandy, and she couldn't bring herself to step outside barefoot. Her foot (my sister's foot) ventured out for a second, not actually stepping, just hovering, but then was drawn in.

The officer pretended to not notice. He didn't insist, and she remained inside. By not insisting and not becoming violent, I think, he saved my actual sanity, and never knew it.

No comments:

Post a Comment